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LGA - ‘Back of a van' fire-risk mattress scam prompts warning by councils

Complaints about cheap "fireball" mattresses sold online or from the ‘back of a van' have soared in some towns and cities, prompting a safety warning by councils and fire authorities.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils and all fire authorities, is warning that the van scam mattresses – which may have fake fire-resistant labels - typically fail fire safety tests and could endanger lives, as well as being filthy and unhygienic inside.

It said one council has reported a tenfold increase in reports of doorstep traders offering fake branded mattresses for sale at ‘discounts' of 70 per cent. Often they are simply old discarded mattresses that have been recovered and packaged to look like new.

Some sellers are even using genuine brand names on the mattresses and vans to fool people into thinking they are getting a bargain.

The van scam traders try to convince prospective customers by describing the mattresses as clearance stock or as ‘going cheap' after a local hotel ordered too many.

They often issue professional looking paperwork to buyers, but this contains false or limited contact details which makes it almost impossible for a consumer to get their money back under the 14-day ‘cooling off period'.

Councils have been cracking down on rogue traders selling illegal mattresses and raising awareness of the scam. Examples include:

  • Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service, a joint service run by the two county councils, has issued a warning to residents after a large spike in mattress scam complaints, from two in 2014 to 20 between January and August 2016 – a tenfold increase.
  • Dorset County Council prosecuted a trader for possessing 213 mattresses - and supplying two - which failed fire safety tests. The seller received a suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay £500 costs. The council also prosecuted an online business which sold mattresses which failed fire safety tests. The company was fined £2,000.
  • Enfield Council prosecuted a father and son who used false trade marks on mattresses and misleading van signage. They were ordered to pay £3,520 and 21 mattresses were seized.
  • Derby City Council has warned of a rogue trader selling mattresses for £180 from a van after a victim paid for a "lumpy, useless mattress".
  • Norfolk County Council received three reports of people selling mattresses from vans between July and September 2016.
  • Wiltshire Council has received three reports of mattresses being sold from a van so far this year.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

"These unscrupulous traders have no interest in the safety of the products they sell and some have now taken to selling mattresses which could create a fireball in people's homes if they catch light.

"These fly-by-night sellers don't care about the risks these mattresses pose, they just want to make a quick buck and leave you with phoney details so they can't be traced.

"Some councils have reported a recent surge in mattress scam complaints but many victims won't realise they have been conned and could be sleeping on a potential death trap.

"These mattresses may be described as memory foam but are carefully wrapped so you have no idea what you are buying. They generally fail fire safety tests and are often worn-out, dirty and unhygienic items destined for the tip.

"Anyone offered a cheap mattress on their doorstep should not buy one. People should only buy mattresses from reputable suppliers.

"Trading standards officers at councils nationwide won't hesitate to prosecute anyone selling illegal mattresses and they run the risk of a large fine and a prison sentence."

Anyone with concerns over suspicious mattress sellers should call Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06, who will pass on your information to trading standards or the police.

Case studies

Notes to editors

  1. The average reported sale price of van scam mattresses to Devon and Somerset Council is £130. By inflating the recommended retail price (RRP) the seller gives the impression of a saving in excess of 70 per cent to entice buyers.
  2. Mattress filling must comply with product safety legislation the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988. Mattresses and bed bases should have a label showing that they meet British Standard BS 7177.
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